Mise Eire

Musing on the sorrows befalling the Irish church at the moment (the Ryan Report etc.), I cannot but think of Pearse's words "I am Ireland ... Great my glory ... great my shame".

It seems to me that the complicity of senior churchmen in the covering-up of the clerical abuse of children is going to make modern Ireland something akin to Germany in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. It took Germany at least 40 years to escape from the shame of the Nazi atrocities and recover a sense of national pride and confidence.

Noone is pretending that what happened in Ireland was on the same scale. We are talking of thousands of vicims, not millions. And it is also true that the Irish church has done great and wonderful things for Ireland, and continues to do so. It is just that Irish Catholicism had so far to fall, and in a palpable and tragic sense it has now fallen.

Saying, and thinking, "I am an Irish Catholic and proud of it" is now as difficult as it used to be to say "I am a German patriot and proud of it" in the aftermath of World War II.

Let us hope and pray that poor Ireland does not need as long to come to terms with her shame.

I have no personal part in all that guilt, and yet I feel the shame of it, especially after reading some of Colm O'Gorman's book Beyond Belief. As a 14-year-old boy he was hurt by a priest - over a period of several years - and the priest then took the coward's way out during his eventual criminal trial. Although he seems to have found some peace, the poor man, there is no doubt that objectively and subjectively, the betrayal by this man of God has wrecked his whole life.

O'Gorman finds it tragic that the priest never faced up to what he had done. I find it tragic also that when that priest - an icon of Christ - shattered the image of Christ for that boy, he destroyed the lad's faith as well as his chances for a normal life. And Colm was not alone. There were many others, and our bishops, God forgive them, were very slow to, in St Ignatius' words, agere contra. But there is still grace, and healing is still possible. Let's keep especially in our prayers not just this man, but all the others like him, and the men who have betrayed them so horribly.

And yet, there is more to Ireland than her sins. And I thank God for all the great priests that Ireland gave the world for generations. They were the priests of my youth, growing up in the south of England. It must all be a tremendous cross for the many thousands of good and holy priests, not to mention the young men in seminaries. These men need our prayers too.
I, for one, am an Irish Catholic and proud of it. Being an English Catholic too perhaps makes it, for once, a little easier.


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